Facebook realises building aircraft is not a core competence

Social media giant Facebook has come to the conclusion that it might be better to leave the building of aircraft to aircraft-builders.

Facebook has been very active in exploring novel ways of bringing connectivity to people who don’t have it for a while. In 2016 it unveiled a few initiatives, including the Terragraph fixed wireless access project and the even more ambitious Aquila programme, focused on using huge, high-altitude drones to bring connectivity to remote locations.

At the time nobody was building the kind of drones Facebook needed to deliver the latter, so it decided to have a go at it itself, despite having zero experience in the matter. On one level that seemed like the kind of buccaneering, can-do approach we admire Silicon Valley companies for, but in hindsight it’s not clear Facebook fully thought it through.

So now we get the announcement that, despite having been apparently committed to Aquila a year ago, Facebook has decided get out of the aircraft-building game and close its UK facility. Facebook has been keen to stress that Aquila and its participation in the high-altitude platform station (HAPS) are still happening, it’s just letting companies like Airbus focus on the planes themselves, which seems fair enough.

The spin seems to be that all the stuff Facebook has done so far has seeded the market and provided the catalyst it apparently needed to take this sort of thing seriously. That may be true it seems unlikely that this was the plan from the start. But regardless, we shouldn’t pillory companies like Facebook for continuing to dare to fail fast, and welcome any contribution to the broader comms R&D effort.